Darren Gelder reflects on the challenges of engaging with the ‘internet generation’ and finding useful real world examples to improve students’ understanding of difficult or dry learning objectives

I had the auspicious task of dusting off my text books and grabbing the GCSE specification this year as I returned to the classroom to teach year 11. As principal for a number of years the foray into the frontline is normally not from the front of the class. However, don’t ask anyone to do what you’re not prepared to do yourself.

My first impressions were the lack of knowledge that students had on current affairs that didn’t involve social media or some youtuber vlogger with strange hair. This was followed by their complete willingness to believe anything if it was on line. Their lack of ability to scrutinise, analyse and question information was quite shocking. I spoke with a number of colleagues in university and asked what their experiences of the current undergraduate intake was. Scarily it mirrored my own.

We appear to be producing a generation that can communicate at amazing speed and respond not always positively to information that they believe to be factual regardless of origin. In the times of ‘fake news’, that we find ourselves in this state does not bode well for the future.

Asked by a student in my new class why I chose to be a business studies teacher back in the prehistoric era, I explained that it was the uncertainty and change that occurred in the world around me and how the subject reflected this. I stood staring at blank faces. I explained that to understand, analyse and question the world around us is key to being  part of a progressive society – I  could see the tumble weed blowing.

What I quickly concluded was the disconnect that many students felt with the ‘real’ world around them as opposed to the virtual world that they felt comfortable and confident in. How do we as teachers help students make sense of the events, actions and changes that are occurring every day in business and society? As an examiner I see first hand how students who are able to contextualise what they have learnt do so much better in exams and other outcomes (academic and personal) than students who are unable to do so.

Back in the classroom I decided to play to students’ online strengths by looking at several current business stories from different online newspapers. I also got them to set updates and feeds for each of the papers they had chosen. I was expecting, or rather hoping, that they would see the difference in reporting that each paper gave. I was disappointed.

The approach I was forced to adopt was to go back to a KS3 hand holding approach of reading together and spotting the differences. It was clear that this was a dry approach that not all students were motivated by. Which again took me back to square one.

By canvasing some student voices about their interest and knowledge of business we trotted out the usual old favourites – Google, Apple, Facebook, Virgin, Dyson linked with YouTube, Kardashians and Love Island. The joy.

However, needs must whilst the devil drives.

We started to base the subject material around these organisations and programmes. However, we looked at specific topic issues such as the marketing of Love Island, perfect for segmentation and socio-economic grouping. This led us to consider how else we might  engage our young learners and create the ideal deeper, rather than superficial level of understanding.

Here are a few choice selections that came about from student feedback. If you have cast your eye over the new Ofsted framework you will have picked up the subtle evidence base for curriculum design and content that is linked with student voice. I would therefore advise that you keep a record of the process of curriculum design whenever you teach or plan a scheme of work.


The way that the brand has defined its range of goods (clothes, fragrance and homeware) is impressive. The link with market segmentation and pricing strategy are clear and easy to follow. The actual knowledge of students on the range, prices and marketing was impressive.

It was also useful to look at this against the Boston matrix and consider what the question marks might include for the Armani portfolio. The EA7 range was useful to look at how a new product is brought to market. I had no problem in getting all students regardless of gender or background to research this topic and discuss at a high level.

Good question – How can the Giorgio Armani range charge £590 for a pouch!!

Why would people pay that amount? – Who are the likely customers/profile?

Whereas the much more reasonably priced pouch in Emporio Armani is a snip at £160!

Rhianna LVMH – marketing mix, growth, ownership, market value, market share, PESTEL, pricing, branding, product development, market research….

LVMH & Rihanna’s Take Two

This new deal is the second venture between Rihanna and LVMH after they shared immense success with her Fenty beauty line, it generated $558 million in its first full year in operation. The $445 billion beauty industry is a gold mine with companies like LVMH constantly mining new ways to get a larger share of the market, and right now the industry is expanding at 3% a year.

African-Americans spend nine times more on ethnic-targeted beauty and grooming products than the general market and are willing to spend money on brands catered towards them. Black women in particular spend an estimated $7.5 billion annually on beauty products. They shell out 80% more on cosmetics and twice as much on skin care as their non-Black counterparts, according to Nielsen. All of this bodes well for Rihanna and ultimately LVMH.

The Breakdown You Need to Know

Rihanna’s Fenty brand is the first house established by the group since Christian Lacroix in 1987, and will join legacy brands like Dior, Givenchy and Fendi. She will be a 49.99% shareholder in Project Loud France, the official name of the company that owns the new label, via her company Denim UK Holdings, according to BoF. Louis Vuitton is the biggest revenue driver at the French luxury goods group LVMH. CultureBanx noted that in 2018 the Fashion & Leather Goods business at the company achieved organic revenue growth of 15%.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/korihale/2019/05/21/rihanna-is-louis-vuittons-latest-response-to-contemporary-culture/#70b4b3452d23

Just guiding the student to the above was enough to create an excellent synoptic chat about a wide range of Business Studies GCSE issues. Yet again their enthusiasm and level of knowledge was astounding. By carefully buildng the scaffolding around the specification, students had the skills and knowledge to apply this to an exam style question. The impact of this was that students moved on average 2 levels by being able to apply higher order responses to their answers. What I also found was their knowledge retention was massively increased. They had developed the hooks for memory retrieval.

Samsung v Apple pricing strategy

Apple are known globally for avoiding reducing prices or having sales, Steve Jobs felt it devalued the product. Even speakers at global apple events would not be given free apple products! This is an excellent lead into pricing strategy both on mobile, laptop and desktop devices against other rivals. ‘Why do we pay so much for an Apple product?’ is an excellent starter to a lesson. When we contrast this with other major players such as Samsung we can see the difference in pricing strategies with a skimming approach for example on some of their products.

Electric cars – technology – PESTEL

Assessing the impact on a business of its external environment is another area where students can sometimes not make the link to the world around them This may be because they haven’t yet been exposed to the wide range of externalities that exist.  Looking at the current drive for electric cars is a good way in to begin to discuss and address the real factors that are driving the change.

Why would a government or a country ban the sale and use of cars? With a small amount of scaffolding this became an immersive lesson including plenty of discussion and dialogue at the higher analytical level as well as the basic understanding that a variety of separate factors can contribute to or impact on business operations.

My final dip into the world of engagement with the class was around the sometimes dry area of ownership and shareholder power. Students don’t always get the background understanding once we pass from sole trader and partnerships into the more complex world of private and public limited company status. This was much better understood by my students looking at an example of one of their favourite brands: Superdry. And an article online that illustrated how decisions are made and who runs the business.

This was a great piece to work with students both at GCSE and A level. It brought all the elements of shareholder and board of director’s decision making together. It also showed students that the directors are there to represent the shareholder views, even if they don’t like or agree with it.

I acknowledge that for many teachers of business my approach to engaging students will not be new. I do hope it will serve as a reminder however that an immersive and engaging world of business operates around us every day.  Products, businesses and stories that students find fascinating and that by choosing business cases carefully we can help students connect what they learn in the classroom to the World around them.


Darren Gelder is Executive Head of the Grace Academy